Marc Sinan / Photo courtesy of ECM Records

Guitar and Clarinet, Lovingly Processed by Electronics

On White, jazz's Marc Sinan and Oğuz Büyükberber prove that duet albums are only as limiting as your imagination.

Marc Sinan / Oğuz Büyükberber
18 May 2018

Guitarist Marc Sinan and clarinetist Oğuz Büyükberber both come from Turkish ancestry, yet their collaboration White doesn’t give the impression that they landed upon this music easily. Sinan started his musical career by studying classical guitar but found himself drawn towards Turkish music. Büyükberber, who grew up around Turkish music, started from the opposite direction and found himself headed in a more classical direction. The two have crossed paths before on a Sinan album named Hasretim: Journey to Anatolia, laying the groundwork for White as a collaboration in both performance as well as in composition. You’ll probably also hear nothing else like it all year.

Both Marc Sinan and Oğuz Büyükberber are credited with using electronics. If duet albums don’t really excite you because you think that less-is-definitely-not-more, White ups the game through electronic manipulation. The CD starts with a selection from Sinan’s original series “Upon Nothingness”, peppered throughout the album. First is “Upon Nothingness, Yellow”, which features a passage on electric guitar that is soaked in enough reverb to drown a horse. Softly in the background are voices lifted from 1916 recordings of Armenian prisoners who were deported to Germany in the thick of World War I. The clarity of these chant-like passages are surprisingly good, delivering the chill they ominously promise, even if you don’t understand the language or the song. The one movement that the two gentlemen composed together, “Upon Nothingness, White”, is lighter than air. So little happens that, at one point, I had to look at the sound file to make sure that it was still playing.

Oğuz Büyükberber submits a series of compositions simply titled “There”, totaling five movements in all. These rely less on electronics and more on the interplay between clarinet and electric guitar. And true to the way in each man has strayed from their respective roots, they rely less on atmosphere and improvisation as “Upon Nothingness”. Büyükberber trots out a melodic motif from time to time, one that jumps at specific intervals and becomes a rare source of repetition for White overall. The business of “There II” acts as a bridge to “Upon Nothingness, Green”, where Büyükberber is doing his best bird calls while Sinan works his way up to a wide, sopping wet brush to blacken the sky. Once that hill is crested, Büyükberber brings us back to solitary confinement with the solo clarinet track “There III”, a tune that sounds like a series of Middle Eastern calls that never receive a response.

As I said before, you’ll probably not hear anything like White for the rest of the year. And while I do mean that as a high compliment, it’s also a bit of a shame to realize that risk-taking is still a pay-to-play venture. Some purists of classical and jazz are okay with the two mixing. Purists of both genres are absolutely not okay with the introduction of electronic manipulation. Trying to combine all three? Forget about it, they’d say. But White is an example of how all three, while in the very capable musical hands of Marc Sinan, Oğuz Büyükberber, and Manfred Eicher, can become a very powerful and inspiring musical tool. Allow it to work its magic and you will not be sorry.

RATING 8 / 10